Before the pandemic, the Mission Arts Performance Project, the roving multimedia art walk better known as MAPP, was struggling to make a go of it following a decade of massive artist and Latinx community displacement. But as arts and cultural communities forge new ways of virtual connection and rents continue to drop, MAPP, now in its 17th year, may be poised for a comeback should artists start returning to The City.
“What we want and what we’re hoping for, is people who’d like to preserve the spirit of San Francisco to join us and help us keep creating and keeping spaces alive and activated,” said Arturo Mendez, a cultural arts advocate and the event’s volunteer producer.
With co-curator, organizer and singer-songwriter Sofia Elias, Mendez and a handful of MAPP regulars are preparing for the next in the series of first Saturday events, calendared for every even-numbered month of the year. The upcoming Dec. 6 edition will combine virtual performance with low-key, low-capacity in-person events for a new kind of local art experience, though the actual program isn’t revealed until the day of the event, in keeping with the project’s freewheeling, speakeasy vibe.
“When MAPP started in 2003, it was called the Mission Arts Party,” said Elias, originally an Angelena who arrived here eight years ago as a student.
“I came here and had my heart opened,” she said. “But I don’t know if new people really understand how to become involved, or what MAPP means.”
It was multidisciplinary Mission-based artist Todd Thomas Brown and friends Adrian Arias, Luis Vasquez Gomez and others who envisioned opening up residences and small, unused and under-used spaces to host a kind of moving arts event in their neighborhood – a way to gather friends, artists and neighbors and intentionally create a more cross-culturally conscious community.
As the Mission Arts Party grew in scope and ambition, it was rechristened the Mission Arts Performance Project and has stayed close to its grassroots, non-hierarchical organizing principles, while its all ages and free admission policies make it accessible to all. It’s also proven that preserving and advancing culture needn’t be an academic or joyless proposition.
“From the second MAPP I participated in, I met amazing people and they remain my family and friends,” said Mendez.
Attracting a spectrum of performers, from accomplished and professional to first timers, Mission locals read poetry, play music, dance and create live art while visiting artists from all points around the globe and other neighborhoods contribute folkloric and contemporary work inspired by the sound, vision and languages of their cultural heritage be it Greek, Middle Eastern, South American or South Asian. Between events, a simple strategy meeting is held, usually over a potluck meal (though given the pandemic, that hasn’t been possible). And while theme-specific work isn’t a requirement to participate, there is generally a vibe among participants that’s simpatico.
“Most of the artists are pretty socially conscious and want to say something explicit with their work,” said Elias. “It’s been my experience that whatever is urgent politically, in our community, in our hearts, can be used as a creative force.”
Whether the theme is climate justice, police violence or saving City College of San Francisco, MAPP supplies art and artists with purpose, but the choice to make topical work or simply exercise artistic expression is theirs.
“When there is no trade relationship between the price of a ticket and expectation for a show, the artists are empowered to feel free, present new work, break boundaries,” said Mendez.
Octogenarian, activist and scholar David Kubrin (featured in a recent edition of SF Lives) found his voice as a poet at MAPP. He’s since participated with musician/shaman Jorge Molina and now with Elias as curator, turning his backyard into a showcase for musicians and poets.
“Often there isn’t an elevated stage at the venues and it gives people the sense of possibility, they see themselves on the stage,” said Kubrin. “It’s inviting and it’s a model that can be exported to a lot of communities. You just need enough would-be artists with the courage to step forth on a stage and a small enough community to circulate without having to get on a bus.”
A year ago, Mendez took the MAPP concept to Mexico where he organized La Diaspora Fest in his hometown of Puebla City.
“People were shy at first but over six days, we saw an evolution among the people who would come out every night,” he said. “They felt welcome and understood it was possible to join in making the art, the culture, the fun. That’s one of the main things of MAPP, to just get involved” said Mendez. “It’s just a few hours every other month, but what you’ll be giving to the community is powerful.” And what performers get is immeasurable.
“I found a community here and stepped into it, discovered parts of myself I didn’t know existed,” said Elias. “But we need to be honest: The MAPP is struggling to stay alive because of displacement,” she said. “It’s more difficult to hold space when it’s just a few of us.”
Mendez, who’s worked on several community and citywide projects to sustain the arts, offered some stats: “It’s important to note in the last 15 years, 35 percent of the Latinx population living in the Mission and 80 percent of artists living in San Francisco have left.”
The MAPP is a piece in the jigsaw of the Mission District’s identity, a place where historically, artists, Latinx and other immigrant communities overlap, coexist and interact.
“The value of culture and arts in immigrant communities in the U.S. creates unity,” explained Mendez. “It’s difficult to defend your community if you don’t have an identity. Culture provides identity, and therefore, dignity. Culture is an indispensable tool for dignity for every people, every community in the world.”
Mendez, a producer of other cultural events like the recent Festival of Latin American Contemporary Choreographers, is now going into his sixth year as MAPP’s producer.
“It’s one of the most consistent things I’ve done in my life,” he said. He also contributes to MAPP as an artist. “Whatever I’m moved to do, I do.” This time around he’s contributing a zine, Urban Prophets.
“Everywhere I’ve lived, I try to find community and people I can create with. Being here has really opened the doors to new possibilities,” he said, surprised as anyone by the gifts he’s received from the project.
“When people come to visit me, I tell them, ‘If you go to New York City, you get to know New York City. If you come to San Francisco, you come to know yourself.’ MAPP is one of those things that allows you to be so free, vulnerable, compassionate and artistic, all at the same time,” said Mendez. “Come dance with us. Be a participant, don’t be a voyeur.”
IF YOU GO
When: Dec. 6
Where: Various locations, announced day of the event
Denise Sullivan is an author, cultural worker and editor of “Your Golden Sun Still Shines: San Francisco Personal Histories & Small Fictions.” A guest columnist, her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Follow her at www.denisesullivan.com and on Twitter @4DeniseSullivan.